Due to specific website-related issues, my The Last of Us review schedule got a bit messed up. But now I’m back to share my thoughts about episode 3 ‘Long, Long Time’, episode 4 ‘Please Hold to My Head’ and episode 5 ‘Ensure and Survive’.
While we spent episodes one and two getting to know Ellie and Joel, episode 3 ‘Long, Long Time’ took a complete detour away from the co-leads as we get to know the briefly mentioned, Bill (Nick Offerman) and Frank (Murray Bartlett). I was not prepared for the rollercoaster of emotions that this episode exposed me to, and after the dust finally settled and the credits rolled, I couldn’t help but think, through tears in my eyes, about how beautifully crafted and how much love and deliberate care was put into the story’s presentation.
‘Long, Long Time’ opened by showing how one man handled the Cordyceps’ apocalypse. But that narrative begins to take a backseat as we transition to the theme of love and how it holds power to shape the path our lives take, no matter how bleak and disastrous the world around us becomes. Bill is a loner, apocalypse prepper, self-proclaimed survivalist, and harsh cynic to the world, not unlike the qualities seen in Joel. This man literally finds a way to live a rather comfortable and safe life in the confines of a small neighborhood protected by tripwires, booby traps, and electric fences. This is what Bill’s prepared for his entire life and he’s content with all of it.
However, Bill’s world is turned upside down when a ragged, starving man named Frank falls into one of his pit traps. After initially being weary of the mysterious and helpless Frank, Bill eventually decides to bring him to his haven for a shower, food, and rest before sending him back on his merry way. But over the course of a single dinner, their lives become tied together forever.
Frank is gracious, charming, and kind. The two men are quite different from each other. And we all know what that means! The pair bond over Bill’s piano and playing a rendition of Linda Ronstadt’s “Long Long Time”. Silence fills the room. Their walls have fallen. And after Bill reveals he’s never had a girlfriend, Frank understands and softly goes in for a kiss. The entire moment is extremely powerful and Nick Offerman just delivers the interaction so fiercely as Bill kisses a man for the first time. He’s shaking with fear. He’s shy. And in tears. As this first encounter is one of profound freedom for him. Frank becomes Bill’s first everything, and from then on, they are inseparable.
Seeing genuine care for gay characters and the honest and soft love between two men is so rarely captured effectively, even in today’s queer representation landscape. Frank is so tender with Bill as he is both shell-shocked and even awash with shame as he’s gone all his life never having someone sweep him away and care for him in all that he is. I think it speaks to so many queer people about how your first love is not only your first experience of freedom but, many a time, it is also accompanied by fear and shame. Unfortunately, queer love is still considered forbidden, yet it’s also exciting and electric when you finally find someone who understands you. Relating to Bill was a massive reason for the beginning of my tear-filled journey in this episode.
Throughout ‘Long, Long Time’, we travel through years with Bill and Frank as we see their closeness and their bickering. There was a scene where Frank surprised Bill with fresh strawberries that he had secretly grown for him. And as the two men tasted the sweetness, they giggled in amazement. The parallel of these two men loving and sharing in a childlike innocent moment while the world outside has been ravaged is beautifully shown. Crying over strawberries was not on my bingo card for 2023. And yet here we are.
Towards the end of their life, some 10 years in their secluded little piece of heaven, reality also sets in as Frank is suffering from some kind of degenerative neuromuscular disorder. Even simple tasks prove to be difficult for Frank. And one day Frank decides, “This is my last day.”
And let me tell you, the floodgates that are my eyes opened. Frank just wanted one last day with the man of his dreams. He wanted to get married, have a nice dinner, have his pills crushed in his drink, and then drift away in Bill’s arms. I was a sobbing mess. And so was Bill.
Not only does Frank get to live one last day the way he wanted. Bill decided to join his husband’s journey to the afterlife. At that point, I was reduced to a sad, shaking puddle of tears.
Oh, but it wasn’t over yet! The Last of Us made man sure that I cried The Last of My Tears because remember at the end of episode 1 where Joel’s radio back at the QZ played Depeche Mode? 80’s? Trouble? Ring a bell? Well, it was basically when Frank and Bill died together. Yeah, kick me while I’m down, why don’t you?
Joe and Ellie finally arrived at Bill and Frank’s house to find Bill’s suicide letter. Bill left everything to Joel. But what got me were these lines from Bill’s letter:
“I used to hate the world and I was happy when everyone died. But I was wrong. Because there was one person worth saving. That’s what I did. I saved him. Then I protected him. That’s why men like you and me are here. We have a job to do.”
Bill briefly telling Joel to keep Tess safe… the pain was so raw for Joel. He couldn’t save his daughter. And he couldn’t save Tess.
One of the things that really blew my mind was how we lived a lifetime with Bill and Frank in their little corner of heaven. And yet, after they are gone, time doesn’t stop. Ellie will never know the two men. Bill and Frank mean so much to us, the audience, in a way that Joel and Ellie will never know.
I know I’m forever changed after watching such a beautiful little story. I think ‘Long, Long Time’ will go down as one of the most captivating episodes of any show, ever. If I could offer Nick Offerman and Murray Bartlett a standing ovation, I would do it in a heartbeat. All the awards!
Now, let’s talk about episode 4 ‘Please Hold to My Head’. It started immediately where we left off in Episode 3. Joel and Ellie have hit the road going to find Tommy in hopes of getting Ellie to a QZ with Fireflies. This episode featured story beats that start to mold our duo into the characters we know from the video games. Up until this point, the dynamic between Joel and Ellie, without the bridged influence of Tess, has been one of a reluctant partnership full of snarky comments and butting heads. But through a new obstacle of dealing with politics and survival in a tumultuous and chaotic QZ in Kansas City, the series has shown that their trust in each other is beginning to solidify.
Episode 4 also feels like a two-parter because a lot of things feel like they’ve been left intentionally in the dark as far as context. We get introduced to Kathleen, who’s looking for a man named Henry, and she is… dedicated… to say the least. However, we’re not really sure why. And her faithful top henchman Perry is carrying out her will with his militia. Very quickly, we do learn about her ruthlessness.
In the midst of Kathleen’s search, the QZ is in complete anarchy. FEDRA agents are gruesomely rounded up and tortured. It made me a little squeamish to see the severity of the torture. But it completely shows how mob mentality and revolutionary takeovers don’t always end with peace.
There’s a scene where Joel and Ellie have crashed their truck into an abandoned building to escape the gunfire. Joel returns fire and takes one down while Ellie finds safety. Joel gets jumped by a lone survivor who gets the better of him and nearly chokes him to death. Ellie, in a panic, see’s that she has to make a choice, save Joel and kill this man or do nothing and remain hidden like Joel told her to do. Against his orders, she pulls out her gun and shoots the assailant in the back, paralyzing him. Bella Ramsay’s acting was so beautiful during that scene. The subtle facial expressions displaying fear, regret, and confusion were brilliant.
I think we may have a problem with Ellie’s coping mechanisms though, as she is quick to brush off the very traumatic and painful act she just committed. It just feels so wrong to watch this young girl deal with something so heavy on the soul. And I think Joel notices a glimpse of himself and realizes that their coping methods are very much the same. Which isn’t a good thing.
Coming to episode 5 ‘Endure and Survive’, we’re immediately thrown into the character differences and political sides of this ever-growing conflict and given more context on what the hell is happening.
Kathleen is relentless in her pursuit of Henry and also has no regard for human life. This woman rounded up a bunch of known collaborators who worked in tandem with FEDRA to save themselves from persecution and to rat out known rebels for meager rewards like extra rations, alcohol, and medicine. Kathleen is cold and unfeeling towards the suffering of those not on the rebels’ side. She’s also demonstrated that she is manipulative, stringing these collaborators with some semblance of justice only to order the entire room to be burned in flames. Her condescending tone made me think of my past work with managers. Nearing the end of the episode, I thought, ‘Man, this girl is just asking for a horribly gruesome death!’
During Kathleen’s backstory, we get to learn that her brother Michael was a shining beacon of justice and fairness. He was respected by all who came to him and had the admiration of Perry and his militia. We get to that that Henry (Lamar Johnson) traded his life to get medicine to save his brother, Sam (suffering from Leukemia). This choice ultimately puts us in the middle of the conflict and gives us a moral dilemma, “What would I do to save the person I love?”
We do things out for our loved ones, never realizing that the cost could be someone else’s happiness or even their life.
And while I can understand Kathleen’s plight, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the sheer amount of regret and shame that Henry feels for making his decision. And the worst part is, Kathleen is aware that her brother would be devastated if he knew the malice and ruthlessness she’s had to resort to try and fill the ache in her heart.
Henry signing to his brother, Sam (Keivonn Woodward), was such an excellent narrative choice. I thought it was genius to diverge from the source material in such a manner by not only making it more inclusive but also as a means to add another layer to the fact that Sam definitely needs Henry.
The mirroring via Joel and Ellie was so brilliant because you see how these two sets of partners are very similar. Joel and Henry have seen their fill of sadness and loss. They share a pessimistic and cynical outlook on life. Whereas Ellie and Sam become fast friends, even bonding over their favorite comic book with the iconic line “Endure and Survive,” which speaks so loudly of their current way of life.
We even got a killer action scene with a sinkhole waking a massive amount of dormant Cordyceps zombies. When they came running like a bloodthirsty stampeding armada, the sheer magnitude of their speed, power, and overall savagery was a lot to take in, and the giant one (a Bloater) being impervious to damage was actually insane. I practically screamed when Ellie tried to hide in a vacant van for safety, only for a child Clicker to contort her body like a scary slinky of death over the seats trying to reach Ellie. It was madness!
Kathleen also gave a villainous speech about how Sam’s death should’ve just happened because he’s one kid in a sea of kids. And why should his life have any kind of value over her brother’s? This could easily be applied to Joel and Ellie.
For Kathleen to meet her demise through a child Cordyceps zombie felt like poetic justice to me!
The final minutes of ‘Ensure and Survive’ were incredibly tragic. The reveal that Sam was hiding a bite. Confiding in Ellie. And Ellie assuring Sam that her blood could heal him. Ellie just big sisters the moment. And seeing her wake up to Sam becoming a Cordyceps-infected zombie was devastating.
Henry is able to put down his own brother. But the toll’s too much for him. Henry lost his reason to live. Seeing him take his own life was heartbreaking when just minutes before, it felt like we were getting a growing pack of survivors who could look out for each other. But alas, this is The Last of Us. No one can have happiness.
Discussing Ellie’s coping habits again, she is dealing with something so life-altering and dark, and yet she just wipes her tears and rushes Joel to hurry and get going. Joel contemplates. The moment is wordless, but Pedro Pascal’s performance speaks volumes. Joel is becoming soft while Ellie is growing numb to the world as she transitions into a survivor with more tragic experiences under her belt.
With the two-parter episodes done, it looks like we’ll be seeing Tommy sooner rather than later. And hopefully, the upcoming reunion between the two brothers will help to mend Joel and share more details about Elli’s condition. We have just passed the halfway point of the first season, and I can’t wait for what’s to come!
Author: Micah Carrillo
Micah is studying English and Digital Design. His love of geek culture spans across diverse mediums and genres. Comics, anime, films, you name it! He enjoys video games on the Nintendo Switch and Xbox.
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